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Board Endorses New School Start Times, Backs Off Some Job Cuts

While the plans are not final, the board gave direction to the district superintendent, who will return with a revised deficit reduction proposal.

The board agreed Tuesday that a triple-tier busing schedule, changing the schools’ start and end times, should be implemented in the fall to potentially save $600,000.

The board also agreed that some of should be reinstated, saying that eliminating them would be a disservice to the district.

At a special session, the board went through each of Harper’s recommendations to erase the district’s $6.7 million budget deficit. Harper presented his proposal in December, which called for cutting of about 112 full-time jobs, restructuring bus and school schedules, eliminating effective, but expensive programs, consolidating courses and restructuring some administration departments.

Last week, the school board listened to what they believed should and should not be cut. Board members have also heard from the community through a series of online and paper surveys that have been offered for months.

Tuesday was the public’s first chance to hear the board’s recommendations, which will then go back to Harper and the administration for further review.

The decisions made Tuesday were not final. Any reductions to the administration staff should be approved at the board’s regular meeting on Monday since the board is required by state school code to let administrators know their job status for the upcoming school year by Feb. 1.

The board is expected to approve the final budget deficit elimination plan on Feb. 28.

Board members said they did not want to see three assistant high school principals cut since those people would be assuming more duties with the elimination of four deans (one per high school) and a reconfigured Catalyst program, which is designed for at-risk students.

The board also did not want to see a director for administration and personnel eliminated.

Board member Eric Gallt said that for being the state’s fourth-largest school district, it has few administrators. The district continually ranks near the bottom of school districts across the state in number of administrators per student, he said.

The board also agreed that the assistive tech position, which helps special needs students, should not be reduced to a part-time position.

Members also recommended to Harper that nine-month attendance secretaries, 11-month bookkeepers, a Plainfield Academy teaching assistant and the community relations coordinator should be restored to the budget.

The Catalyst program could change so that one social worker and two teaching assistants will work with the at-risk high school population at a centralized high school instead of each high school supporting its own Catalyst program. While highly effective, the program serves only about 2 percent of the high school population and is cost prohibitive in its current state, Harper said.

With about $1 million of previous cuts restored, the board is saving about $6.4 million, short of its $6.7 million deficit.

While most votes were split, the board did vote to recommend to Harper that many of his proposed cuts remain.

Among these include the elimination of 12 Reading Recovery teachers, who assist elementary students with one-on-one intense reading help. While highly effective, the district will transition to a new program, Guided Reading Plus, in which reading specialists work with small groups of students at a savings of about $800,000.

The board also agreed to let go 15 differentiation specialists, who helped gifted students at a savings of about $1 million. The district is piloting an accelerated curriculum at the elementary school level that allows students in third to fifth grades to take math and language arts a grade level above and beyond their current curriculum.

The board voted to eliminate 10 instructional technology specialists, the full-time equivalent of 1.2 high school reading specialists and four deans and to increase the assistant athletic director’s duties from teaching two classes now to teaching four classes next year.

Several high school courses will be consolidated, which some parents voiced concern with last week.

For the district’s support staff, four high school secretaries will be cut, as well as three middle school office clerks, two high school media assistants, seven middle school learning lab aides and four high school copy clerks. Four registered nurses and extra hours for the nurses will also be eliminated and the middle school in-school suspension program will be restructured.

All the recommendations made by the school board will go to Harper to make further revisions to the budget deficit plan.

“This process is not complete,” board President Stuart Bledsoe said.

School board members said they hope that when the district is in better financial shape, many of the cuts and positions could be restored.

Harper said the positions that were eliminated are valued within the district, but he can’t put a time frame on when some of the positions could be put back into the budget.

“I don’t think temporary is one year,” he said. “I don’t think it is two years. I think it is further away than that.”

Bledsoe said the board should consider raising the driver's education fee by $50, which could generate about $78,200 if the district maintains comparable enrollment figures. The fee increase would still make the district cheaper than other options, he said.

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